In this article Eloise Skinner, author, therapist and founder of two educational start-ups, The Purpose Workshop and One Typical Day, tells us about the three important things you don’t always learn in business school:
If you’re looking for advice on starting and growing a business, there’s no shortage of it. Articles, webinars, accelerators, incubators – even, perhaps, a full business school education, for those with the time and resources to spare. But, even with all the assistance and support in the world, there are still some lessons that can only truly be learned by trial, experimentation and experience. This article will take you through three of them – and give you some practical tools for preparing to experience them yourself.
Lesson 1: Building a business can be exhausting (on a personal level, and professional level)
Building a startup, whether you’re alone or working with a founding team, is an exhausting process. Unlike other jobs, you won’t be closing your laptop at the end of the day (or during the weekend) and jumping straight into a relaxing personal life. Instead, you’ll always have your business at the back of your mind. ‘Work-life balance’ becomes increasingly challenging as the business grows: once you become responsible to customers and clients, or answerable to investors, it can seem like an all-encompassing task.
Business school strategy only goes so far when it comes to your personal sense of wellbeing, which is something each founder and business leader must navigate for themselves. One of the most important principles, then, is to stay close to yourself: observe your own wellbeing as you move through the process of business-building, and make supportive changes where you can. These changes can be small, to start – you can think about delegation, or getting more assistance within your team, or even simply starting a conversation about your personal context with other team members. Of course, this process will look different for everyone, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind during the first few years of starting up (and beyond!).
Lesson 2: Failure can be challenging, but success comes with its own challenges too
Business school case studies often talk about failure, and there are many suggestions on how to deal with it effectively. From switching strategy to rearranging team structure, you’ll no doubt have a range of practical ideas for what to do with a business failure. But business schools are much less likely to deal with the personal, emotional impact of failure on a startup founder or business leader. And, on a related point, the pressures and personal challenges that can also come with success.
Both of these outcomes – success and failure – deliver their own set of circumstances to handle. Along with failure, there can be feelings of guilt, responsibility, self-criticism or mistrust in the team or management of the business. And with success, there can be feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, rising pressure and uncertainty about the sustainability of growth. All of these responses – and many more – are totally normal for startup founders, particularly during the first few years of developing a venture. As with the first lesson, every founder will have to navigate their own way through these complications. But there are some foundations you can put in place to prepare for the path ahead.
First, try to establish an open, close relationship with your co-founders or managing team. Even if you’re not sharing all your personal feelings with them, it will help to know you’re able to talk honestly about your responses to the business’s development. Second, try noting down your responses to particular situations, in order to keep a personal log of your own business journey. That way, when similar situations arise in the future, you’ll be able to recall the ways in which you handled it in the past (including any tips or advice you gathered to help yourself through it). And finally, it can help to remind yourself of your life outside the startup environment: to talk to family, friends or a therapist whenever work feels like it’s taking over.
Lesson 3: It’s important to stay close to your personal sense of mission, even as the business grows and changes
As an early-stage founder, you’ve probably written (and re-written) your mission statement. This is a fundamental part of deciding where you and the business are headed together, and one that should set you on the right track as you begin. But, as always, things change rapidly as your business grows and expands, and your ambitions, goals and intentions may well change along with it. The important thing, here, is for you to stay close to the mission you genuinely believe in. If it changes along the way, and you feel like the change is authentic to who you are – great. But if your personal sense of mission starts to diverge from the business’s purpose and direction, it’s a great time to pause, re-evaluate and reassess. And this tool – the ability to take a step back and realign – should be something you use whenever it becomes helpful.